Fresh lessons from large organic farm in dry land
If you had visited this part of Kenya a decade ago, you would never have imagined that a successful farming story could come out of here. For Narok South, a region that is accustomed to perennial drought and famine, Oleleshwa Farm is an inspiring tale. Even today, the climate is relatively hostile for farming, often characterised by intense heat and little rainfall.
Yet somehow, Oleleshwa Farm, a multipurpose large-scale farm manages to thrive under these unfriendly conditions. The farm is operated by WE Villages, a subsidiary of Free the Children, a North American NGO that has operated in Narok County since 2002.
“This area experienced severe drought in 2010. Most people could not find food,” says Robin Wiszowaty, Free the Children’s Kenya Program Director. As Wiszowaty explains, it was the drought that inspired the concept for the farm, which now provides food for Baraka Hospital, a Level Four hospital operated by the charity.
The farm also provides food for more than 200,000 pupils and students who study at schools initiated and run by the organisation.
The main farm is established on a 60-acre piece of land and contains 12 irrigated greenhouses, 15 irrigated open fields, a fish pond and beehives. Water for irrigation is obtained from a borehole dug in the farm.
The farm grows all kinds of food, from onions and carrots to cauliflowers, cabbages, broccoli, tomatoes and celery.
Out of the 60 acres, 40 acres of unirrigated fields are used for the production of maize and beans. An orchard has also been set aside with fruits like apples and papayas.
“Last year the maize performed poorly, so we decided to diversify the crops we grew. That is why we started growing bananas,” explains Timothy Mwangi, the farm manager. Narok County has traditionally cultivated a limited set of crops, mainly maize, beans, millet and sorghum.
The farm has four permanent staff, and the rest of the workers are mostly casuals.
Even though the farm has been doing well and is able to feed hundreds of thousands, Mr Mwangi says growing the food is extremely challenging, mostly because the farm is purely organic.
“Pests and diseases are the biggest challenge,” he notes. The farm, however, makes its own organic pesticides.
“We make pesticides from wood ash, chillies, onions and aloe vera,” says Anita, a student at Oleleshwa Girls’ Secondary School.
Agriculture and agriculture club students at the school learn practical farming skills at the farm. Aside from making pesticides, the students also participate in other activities such as planting and harvesting.
According to Wiszowaty, training the students, all of whom are from Narok County, in agricultural skills, will allow the students to practice what they learn in their families’ farms, thereby enhancing food security.
The farm is additionally used to demonstrate sustainable farming techniques to the local community.
Crop rotation is also practiced to allow the soil to retain its fertility.